Tuesday, April 10, 2007

tamales for Easter

For many years, I lazily haven't made traditional holiday meals. It's hard to get motivated to cook several intricate dishes over several days for only two people. Dinner lasts 15 minutes and we can't possibly consume all the leftovers so most of it ends up in the trash. Still it's depressing when my family, grandparents and all the cousins call from their elaborate holiday dinner with all the fixings to wish us well and I'm eating scrambled eggs or cereal in front of the TV.

This year I decided to make the effort anyway and for Christmas, dutifully made a full turkey dinner, complete with potatoes, rolls, pie, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, the works. All in my first trimester when I didn't really want to eat any of it. It was nice but exhausting and ridiculously excessive for our tiny family.

how much stuffing can two people eat?

This Easter, I was a little less ambitious. I made only one special dish, which still made the day felt different while preserving my energy. I made tamales, filled with tomatillo chicken. They were good and just what I was craving. Suprisingly, they were even better the next day. I also made some sweet ones for dessert by adding a lot of sugar and some cinnamon to the masa - so yum. I'll definitely be making these again. I used a recipe from Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen. If anyone's interested in the recipe, let me know and I'll post it.

a little package of joy

Tamale and Tomatillo Chicken Filling recipes
from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen

All “special” ingredients can be purchased in Zurich at El Maiz on Josephstr. This includes the corn husks, masa harina (corn flour), tomatillos (in cooler, look like green tomatoes), jalapeno and serrano chiles. Lard or “schweinfett” is available at Jemoli.

Tomatillo Chicken Filling

This is only one option for filling tamales. If you have about 2 cups of shredded cooked meat or lightly cooked vegetables mixed with a salsa or sauce, you can use it as a filling for tamales. I highly recommend getting a Rick Bayless cookbook so you have more options for fillings.

8 oz (5-6 medium) tomatillos, husked and rinsed
2 serrano chiles (or jalapenos), stem removed
1 ½ tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
½ medium white onion, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and roughly chopped
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons cilantro (aka coriander), roughly chopped
Salt, ¼ to ½ teaspoon
1 1/3 cups coarsely shredded cooked chicken (I usually use meat from a roasted chicken or you can poach a chicken breast in water)

Roast the tomatillos and chiles on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler until blackened and soft on one side, 5 to 6 minutes. Then turn them over and roast the other side. Transfer (including all juices) to a food processor or blender. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium, add the onion and cook, stirring regularly, until deep golden, about 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic, cook 1 minutes, then scrape into the food processor or blender. Process to a medium-coarse puree.

Heat the remaining ½ tablespoon of the oil in the skillet and set over medium heat. Add the puree all at once and stir for about 5 minutes, until noticeably darker and thick. Stir in the broth, partially over and simmer over medium-low for 10 minutes. Add chicken and simmer for a few minutes. Stir in cilantro and generously season with salt.


½ of an 8oz package dried corn husks
4 to 5.5 oz (100-150 grams) chilled lard (or vegetable shortening)
1 tsp baking powder
1 ¾ cups masa harina (for tamales) mixed with 1 cup plus 2 TB hot water, then allowed to cool
About 1 cup of chicken broth

The corn husks. Bring the corn husks to a boil in water to cover in a large saucepan, then weight with a plate to keep them submerged and let stand about an hour. Boil more than you think you need, some will be too small, some fall apart and you need some to line the tamale steaming pot.

The batter. With an electric mixer, beat the chilled lard with the baking powder until light in texture, about 1 minute. Continue beating as you add the reconstituted masa harina in three additions. While beating, slowly pour ½ cup of broth. Continue beating another minute until a ½ tsp dollop of the batter floats in a cup of cold water – ensures tender and light tamales.

Beat in enough additional broth to give the mixture the consistency of soft (not runny) cake batter; it should softly hold its shape in a spoon. Season with salt, about 1 tsp, depending on the saltiness of the broth.
For lightest texture, refrigerate the batter for an hour or so, then re-beat, adding enough additional broth to bring the mixture to the same consistency it had before. (Note: I refrigerated my overnight then re-beat when I was ready to assemble the tamales. This worked well)

Forming and steaming the tamales. Pick out 16 nice corn husks for forming the tamales, then use 2/3 of the remainder to line a steamer (a tall pot with a vegetable steamer basket opened at the bottom –the pot should be tall enough to allow the tamales to stand up). Fill the bottom of the steamer with 1-2 inches of water. Tear 16 long, ¼ inch-wide strips of corn husks for tying the tamales.

One by one, form the tamales: Open the corn husk, dry it slightly, then spread about ¼ cup of the batter into a 4-inch square, leaving at least 1 1/2 –inch border on the pointy end of the husk and a ¾-inch border along the other sides. Spoon a good 2 tablespoons of the filling down the center of the batter. Pick up the two long sides of the husk and bring them together, causing the batter to roll around the filling, enclosing it. Roll the flaps of the husk in the same direction around the tamal. If the husk is too small, start over with a bigger one. Fold up the empty, pointy end section to close off the bottom, then secure it by loosely tying one of the strips of husk around the tamal and the folded flap. Stand the tamal on its folded end in the steamer.

Continue until all tamales are formed and standing in the steamer. Fill any gaps in the steamer with leftover corn husks. Lay any unused husks over the tamales. Cover the pot. Bring to a boil and steam over medium heat for 1 to 1 ¼ hours. Make sure that the water stays at a steady boil and never runs out, or your pan will burn and the tamales will not be as light.

Tamales are done when the husk peels away easily. Let them firm up a few minutes in the steamer, off the heat, before serving.

Advanced preparation. Steamed tamales hold beautifully, covered and refrigerated for several days; reheat them in the steamer (or microwave if you’re lazy like me). The filling can be made a couple days beforehand and the masa can be whipped with the lard up the day before, then re-beat before forming.

1 comment:

Tania said...

I'm interested in thsi recipe.. Could you post it please?

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